Despite the outcry that the picture was clearly a helm of a ship, the Mazahima was re-remanded until June 3 under the ICCPR Act
Following a tip-off given by the people in Kolongoda, 47-year-old M. R Mazahima was arrested by the Hasalaka Police, last month, for wearing a caftan with a symbol that ‘resembled the Darmachakra’- the wheel of Dhamma. The symbol on her dress was believed to have insulted Buddhism. She was initially remanded by the magistrate until May 27. Despite the outcry that the picture was clearly a helm of a ship, the Mazahima was re-remanded until June 3 under the ICCPR Act. The police informed the court that the dress concerned had been sent to the Department of Buddhist Affairs to ascertain the identity of the symbol. When the case was taken up on June 3, Mazahima was granted bail and the next court date was fixed for November 4.
Mazahima is from a poverty stricken family and her husband is a mason who was working in Colombo at the time of her arrest. Mazahima had been on her way to withdraw money from a bank in Kolongoda, when people had noticed the dress and informed police. Later, the Hasalaka Police arrested her, once she had returned home.
According to her husband, Abdul Munaf, Mazahima had been wearing the dress as a casual clothing for the past one and a half years. She had worn it and visited relatives in Welimada etc, but no one had questioned her previously. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Abdul Munaf said that the incident was a grave injustice. “I became helpless and I feel depressed. We are upset that we got embroiled in something that we never expected nor intended,” he said.
“This is an illegal arrest”-J.C.Weliamuna
Human Rights Lawyer J.C.Weliamuna said that the arrest was unlawful and the woman should claim damages. “An arbitrary arrest is a violation of a fundamental right. The woman has a case to go to Supreme Court and thereafter, she can file a case against the police for huge damages. I think she must file both cases and claim damages for an unlawful arrest,” he said.
“There is absolutely no basis for her arrest under the ICCPR. This is an abuse of the ICCPR Act. The ICCPR Act is to protect fundamental rights. But this is a violation of fundamental rights,” he added.
He further pointed out that the woman has not committed a criminal offence. “The arresting officer must be convinced that a criminal offence has been committed to make an arrest without a warrant. I don’t think he made the arrest with that idea in mind. She was arrested due to social pressure. This is an illegal arrest,” he said.
An arbitrary arrest is a violation of a fundamental right. The woman has a case to go to Supreme Court
Asked what could be done as the woman can’t be granted bail since the charge is under the ICCPR Act, Weliamuna pointed out that the police can change the B report with a further report stating that they do not want to proceed under the ICCPR. “The Attorney General can intervene and say that there is no case and discharge. The magistrate can question and get the Attorney General’s advice because this is a serious matter about the liberty of a citizen,” he said.
“These people are poor, helpless litigants. They need to get proper legal representation. These are matters that can be avoided by a vigilant magistrate,” he said.
“Magistrate must decide whether matter falls under that law.” - PC Saliya Pieris
In similar vein, President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris said that any Magistrate before whom a suspect is produced is required by law to apply his mind to the matter before him and decide on whether a suspect should be remanded. Whether it is under the ICCPR or any other law the Magistrate must decide whether the matter before him falls under that law. He cannot remand a person merely because the police asks him to do so,” he said.
“Pic on dress not the Darmachakra.” Ven.Dambara Amila
Ven.Dambara Amila confirmed that the picture was not that of the Darmachakra, but was of the helm of a wheel. “The Darmachakra is like a wheel of a cart. It’s a symbolic of the spreading of Buddhism. The Darmachakra is what you find in the Indian national flag. But the picture on the woman’s dress is not the Darmachakra,” he said.
The arrest is a result of Buddhist extremism. It’s a pity that such a complaint was made
“The arrest is a result of Buddhist extremism. It’s a pity that such a complaint was made and that she was arrested without preliminary investigations. Such an arrest has nothing to do with Buddhism. The violation of this woman’s rights is a pity,” he said.
“Symbols are incredibly arbitrary.” - Prof.Siri Hettige
Sociologist Prof. Siri Hettige emphasised on the arbitrary nature of symbols. “Symbols are incredibly arbitrary. A symbol can mean many things to different people. Symbols don’t mean anything to some people. They are all created by us to symbolise something significant.
Once they are accepted as a symbol, then people are prepared to die for them. This is what we see in this country. The world is not symbolic. The world is real. But real things are not given priority. If you take real issues into consideration, people should be coming together. Humanity is threatened by real problems,” he said.
“Police made a big mistake.” - Harsha De Silva
MP Harsha De Silva in a tweet addressing President, Maithripala Sirisena pointed out that the crest of the Sri Lankan emblem is the Dharmachakra. “The design on this lady’s dress does not look like the Dharmachakra. It’s more like a ship wheel. It certainly looks like the police made a big mistake. Do we really have to harass her like this?” he tweeted.